7:00 A.M. EST July 15, 2010 | MANONKOH VILLAGE, Sierra Leone (UMNS)
The Doris Acton United Methodist Church Community Health Center in
Manonkoh , Sierra Leone, was recently dedicated with the help of funds
from Sierra Leone Annual Conference in partnership with the Minnesota
Annual Conference. UMNS photos by Phileas Jusu.
People needing health care in the remote communities of Manonkoh, Rokon,
Maserry and Masethie in northern Sierra Leone used to be in dire
Pregnant women in labor and people with other health emergencies were
rushed from these communities on motorbikes — the main means of
transportation in rural Sierra Leone — through a 30-kilometer stretch of
bad road to Makeni, the provincial capital, for treatment, sometimes
during odd hours of the night.
Stories abound of patients who had lost their lives to treatable
ailments because their families could not convey them in time to receive
immediate medical attention.
All that changed on June 4 when the United Methodist Sierra Leone Annual
(regional) Conference, in partnership with United Methodists in
Minnesota, dedicated a $60,000 health facility in Manonkoh Village.
Funded mainly by the Lance and Julie Burma Foundation of Minnesota, the
new Doris Acton UMC Community Health Center is named after a parish
nurse from Minnesota.
“Today, the focus of the clinic continues to be primary care to all
people; care that is accessible and affordable,” Acton said. “Nobody is
turned away. We primarily focus on the diseases that cause the biggest
morbidity and mortality rates in children… malaria, pneumonia, worms and
Reaching remote communities
Acton said she first conceived the idea of “bringing health care to
remote communities” in Sierra Leone in 2005 when she visited the West
African country as a mission volunteer.
“Our goal is to stuff it with enough
equipment and personnel so that we can be opened for seven days a week
for emergency cases and normal routine checkups.” — Lance Burma
With her dream in mind, Acton returned the next year with a construction
team that visited several villages to decide which one was more in
need. “We chose Manonkoh because it was the most remote of all the
communities we visited,” she recalled. “It did not have a health center,
but it had a United Methodist Church and school and the people were so
open and so gracious to receive us.”
The first medical team from Minnesota visited Manonkoh in 2007 and
delivered basic treatment to the communities for about a week.
“It blossomed from there …and we’ve been running a clinic once a week
with the help of nurse Aminata Kamara and her team of volunteer nurses,”
Acton said. “The whole focus has always been the delivery of basic
health care that is affordable to people who have no easy access to
Team members visiting Sierra Leone from Minnesota have often brought in
additional medication for the effective running of the Manonkoh clinic —
mainly medication that is not easily available in the country.
As a result, patients travel from different parts of the country to
receive treatment at Manonkoh clinic because of the good quality of
drugs they receive. “But we really would like to use as many medications
as possible from this country so that it’s more sustainable long term,”
Julie Burma said.
Providing health education
The clinic also has been involved in health education in the
communities. Every week, the health workers teach the patients visiting
the clinic different ideas about health involving nutrition, hygiene,
sanitation, malaria prevention and basic medical care.
In addition, the health workers do outreach — visiting the families in
their homes — to verify that no child or no adult is being left behind.
“We want to make sure that we are able to reach out and bring these
children and these adults who need the health care,” Acton emphasized on
The Doris Acton United Methodist Church Community Health Center in Manonkoh , Sierra Leone.
“This building represents a long process, but it also represents the
beginning of a new phase of our work here in Sierra Leone,” Lance Burma
told the jubilant crowd that had converged at the project site in
Manonkoh on dedication day.
Sierra Leone Bishop John Yambasu and an entourage traveled 200
kilometers from Freetown, the capital, to grace the occasion. They were
joined by government representatives, community elders and
representatives of the other three beneficiary communities.
M.C. Conteh, lay leader for the Makeni district, said he was proud of
what the Minnesota Conference was doing there. Providing health for the
sick was one of the strongest pillars of Christ's ministry, he noted.
“That is what Christ did for most parts of his ministry — he gave sight
to the blind and fed the hungry — this is what Minnesota is doing in
The foundation stone of the health center was laid in July 2009, and
work is ongoing as the staff begins to use the facility. When it is
finished, the health center will have staff quarters for nurses, a
guesthouse for future teams visiting Manonkoh, a well to provide clean
water and a solar power-generating system and incinerator.
‘Treated with dignity’
“Our goal is to stuff it with enough equipment and personnel so that we
can be opened for seven days a week for emergency cases and normal
routine checkups,” Lance Burma added. “We hope that the patients will be
treated with dignity and respect, and we also hope that people will
come to view this as an area of learning about how to keep their
children healthy so that they don’t need to fall ill and bring them to
Other projects undertaken by Minnesota teams through Acton and the Burma
Foundation include building new wells and toilets, distributing food
supplies, providing mosquito bed nets, offering scholarships to high
school students, rehabilitating the Manonkoh primary school and
purchasing a van for outreach services. More than 50 team members from
Minnesota have visited Manonkoh in the past four years.
United Methodists providing health care in Sierra Leone also are facing
some new challenges. Because Sierra Leone ranks among countries with the
highest infant and maternal mortality rates, the government recently
introduced free medical care for pregnant women, lactating women and
children under 5 in all government hospitals.
The new government initiative has increased the salaries of all
government health workers by about 500 percent, making it difficult for
church clinics to compete for staff. Huge crowds also gathered at United
Methodist health centers and hospitals in April when the new initiative
as launched, expecting free treatment.
United Methodist and other faith-based health service organizations are
now in negotiations with the Sierra Leone government for inclusion in
the health initiative since the government health service does not exist
in every part of the country.
*Jusu is a United Methodist communicator based in Sierra Leone.
Media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.